Table Of Content
This “dude food” diner – elaborate burger menu; skulls and shipping pallets stuck on the walls; confrontational slogans scrawled in the gents – doubles as a rather good bar. It’s a place where, to a soundtrack of Orange Juice and Vampire Weekend, you can work your way through Irish beers from such outfits as Trouble Brewing, Knockout and Farmageddon, as well as a small selection of established (Sierra Nevada on tap) and more obscure US beers. Crazy Mountain Brewery’s Neomexicanus Native pale, brewed with the eponymous and unusual neomexicanus hop, was one such novelty. It is an arresting beer, with a profound tangerine flavour coming through amid the expected accents of lemon and resinous bitterness.
•Pint from £4. 46 Church Lane, 028-9023 3282, bootleggersbelfast.com. Open Mon-Sat noon-1am, Sun 1pm-midnight
Next door, Lavery’s has the same attractions as seemingly every pub in Belfast: late-night music, televised live sport, Guinness. But in the Woodworkers, a newer spin-off from “Belfast’s oldest family-owned bar”, the emphasis is on craft beer. The interior may tick too many modern, bar-design cliches (retro peg-board menu; exposed brick and distressed plasterwork; towering Victorian apothecary-style back bar), but there is no doubting the quality of the beer, nor the sincerity of the staff. “Feel free to ask staff for a sample,” announces one poster, and that sample will come with enthusiastic recommendations for the next few rounds. Seven craft taps and a sizable selection of cans and bottles, which rotate regularly, include selections from Ireland’s best brewers – O Brother, Kinnegar, Galway Bay – as well as A1 beers from breweries as geographically diverse as Copenhagen’s To Øl, Manchester’s Cloudwater and Rascals of Dublin. With the Hudson and Brewbot, Woodworkers forms the Holy Trinity of Belfast’s craft beer bars.
•Pint from £4.10. 20-22 Bradbury Place, 028-9087 1106, laverysbelfast.com. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-1am, Sat 11.30am-2pm, Sun 12.30pm-midnight
Inside this dusky nook of a bar – crowned the best in the city last year, but under threat from developers – the beer choice is bang up to date. There is only one cask beer, but the fridges are well-stocked with ales from regional breweries such as Lacada, Farmageddon (try its IPA) and Belfast’s own Boundary, whose American pale is a very tasty, sessionable 3.5%. From further afield, there were also Beavertown cans and beers from Kentucky’s Lexington on the shelves and, as an indication of previous guests, old bottles from Redchurch and Siren stacked in the eaves. Beer in hand, you can then browse the Sunflower’s collection of left-wing, sporting and music memorabilia. For instance, Diego Maradona, the miners’ strike and that excellent depiction of Belfast’s punk scene, Good Vibrations (parts of which were filmed here), are celebrated on its walls. At night, folk, jazz and ukulele jam sessions keep the Sunflower lively until late.
•Pint from £3.30. 65 Union Street, 028-9023 2474, on Facebook. Open daily noon-1am
The Hudson Bar
Idiosyncratically decked out in antique bric-a-brac, this busy, multistorey cafe-bar and music venue has one of Belfast’s most comprehensive craft beer ranges. Its numerous keg taps feature interesting imports (largely drawn from northern English breweries, such as Runaway, Magic Rock, and Northern Monk), supplemented by a menu of around 40 bottled beers. Naturally, that menu includes a solid selection of local and Irish beers. Recommended by the chatty bar staff (the norm in Belfast), Kinnegar’s Scraggy Bay is a terrific unfiltered IPA. Thick and rich, robustly bitter and full of complex, balanced tropical fruit flavours, it is reminiscent of another Hudson fave – Thornbridge’s Jaipur.
•Pint from £3.90. 10-14 Gresham Street, 028-9023 2322, hudsonbelfast.com. Open Mon-Wed 11.30am-1am, Thurs-Sat 11.30am-2am, Sun noon-midnight
The John Hewitt
Opened to fund Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre and named after a late socialist poet, the John Hewitt doesn’t just have worthy credentials, it is also an excellent pub. Solid and traditional, all acres of dark wood and stained glass, it prides itself on its list of around 18 mainly bottled Irish beers from such breweries as Kinsale, Hilden, Station Works, Farmageddon, Clever Man (look out for its Ejector Seat turf-smoked stout) and Hercules. This last, under its Yardsman brand, brews a superior lager that you will see everywhere in Belfast. The John Hewitt also serves Punk IPA and one cask beer – on this visit Shepherd Neame’s Early Bird. A snifter of Clearsky’s Rowlock IPA, another popular local beer, was very citrusy on a lemon-lime axis and, if a bit too sweet, enjoyable.
•Pint from £3.90. 51 Donegall Street, 028-9023 3768, thejohnhewitt.com. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-10pm, Sat noon-10am, Sun 7pm-midnight
The Dirty Onion
Historically a bonded warehouse that shipped Jameson’s whiskey, this building is now a dramatic setting for the latest bar-restaurant from regional hospitality group Beannchor. The courtyard entrance is dominated by a two-storey wooden frame of ancient beams. It makes the Dirty Onion look like the skeleton of a building recently gutted by fire – or a settlement from Mad Max. The bar itself is low-ceilinged, dark and atmospheric. Its beer selection takes in a solid core of local beers from Farmageddon, Clearsky and Whitewater (try its Sierra Nevada-like Maggie’s Leap IPA). The Dirty Onion also carries beers from Tennent’s Glasgow-based craft off-shoot, Drygate, and the Molson Coors-owned Franciscan Well. This is not, perhaps, an essential stop-off on strict craft beer terms, but it is worth seeing for the building and – if such music is your bagpipes – the nightly traditional folk sessions that the Onion hosts with cultural centre An Droichead.
•Pint from £4. 3 Hill Street, 028-9024 3712, thedirtyonion.com. Open Mon-Sat noon-1am, Sun noon-midnight
This flatiron-shaped bar, decorated with portraits of Northern Ireland’s most famous sons – from Seamus Heaney to George Best – carries several Irish craft beers in bottle and on keg. Kinnegar’s stellar beers feature prominently, alongside ales from Derry’s Northbound and several Bittles beers brewed for it by Ards Brewing Company. A few international beers (say, cans from Beavertown, bottles of Chimay and Brewmeister’s beers from Scotland) round out the selection. Ireland remains fond of its darker, malty “red ales”, and Bittles was pouring Hillstown Brewery’s Massey Red on this visit. Smokey, chocolatey with hints of steeped berry fruits and red wine, it is an interesting drop.
•Pint from £4. 70 Upper Church Lane, 028-9031 1088, on Facebook. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-11pm, Sun 11am-11pm
•Craft bottles from around £4. 29 Chichester Street, 028-9032 1984,thegarrickbar.com. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-1am, Sun 12.30pm-midnight
Brewbot is both an automated, hi-tech brewing kit due to be launched soon and a bar, opened by the same team, that has immediately established itself as Belfast’s foremost craft beer hub. A stark, post-industrial space, it offers a choice of 12 keg beers that (overlooking the incongruous inclusion of Guinness’s Hop House 13 lager and Dublin porter) regularly feature such innovative, benchmark beers as Blackjack’s Farmhouse Red IPA, Wild Beer’s Shnoodlepip (finished with hibiscus flowers) or Galway Bay’s 303 soured pale. Brewbot’s menu of around 150 bottled beers is by far the biggest in Belfast and it takes in the brightest names in global beer (London’s Partizan, Oregon’s Gigantic, Copenhagen’s Mikkeller). As you might expect, the staff are beer evangelists, keen to offer tasters and talk you through the background of these beers. Brewbot regularly hosts launches and meet-the-brewer events, such as the imminent tap-takeover with County Donegal’s Kinnegar Brewing (9 April).
•Pint from £4. 451 Ormeau Road, brewbotbelfast.com. Open Mon-Sat noon-1am, Sun noon-midnight
The Errigle Inn
It is Brewbot, Belfast’s pre-eminent craft beer bar (see entry), that will probably bring you to this stretch of the Ormeau Road in south Belfast – about 20 minutes’ walk from the city centre. But do not miss the historic Errigle Inn. A labyrinth venue that is simultaneously a locals’ boozer and a multi-roomed comedy, sport and music venue, it is also hot on good beer. In the beautiful Oak Room you will find a selection of cask, keg and bottled beers from Ireland and the UK’s most cutting-edge breweries. The likes of Farmageddon and Whitewater represent for Northern Ireland, while beers from, for instance, Thornbridge and Cloudwater season that selection with some of the best beers from the mainland.
•Pint from £4.20. 312-320, Ormeau Road, 028-9064 1410, errigle.com. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-1am, Sun 10am-midnight.